The view from Taiwan

by Wen-Hung Hsieh and Shu-Ling Wu

The end of WWII led to the split of many regions in Asia. Today, the division between North and South Korea and the complexity of the situation between China and Taiwan remain two of the most pressing issues perplexing countless Asia experts. And with North Korea’s nuclear detonation in early September, the largest such to date, the situation is more tense than ever before.

North Korea and Taiwan, despite their differing political ideologies nevertheless share common ground. They are both being isolated by the international community while also being intricately connected to the United States, China and Japan. The vastly different ideologies of North Korea and Taiwan have resulted in North Korea being grouped with China while Taiwan is constantly seeking U.S. and Japanese involvement. So how does Taiwan look at the escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea?

U.S. options

On August 29, at roughly 6 a.m. local time, an abrupt missile warning from Japan’s government shocked and frightened the Japanese society. North Korea launched a missile over Japan that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. According to CNN, the launch may have been a strong message in response to the joint South Korean-American military exercises. In the wake of this incident, U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea that “all options are on the table.” Due to Taiwan’s unique political situation, the media in Taiwan show diverging opinions with regards to the U.S.’s responses and solutions to the military threats from North Korea.

New Taiwan Refueling, a popular talk show hosted by Liao Xiao-jun of the SET News Channel, reported the U.S. could easily stop any attack should North Korea strike at American territory.  SET has asserted the U.S. is ready to fend off North Korean missiles aimed at Guam, and any attack directed at U.S. soil would justify a full-fledged retaliation, potentially resulting in the end of the current North Korean regime.  Nonetheless, an expert of missile engineering Zhang Cheng, said the U.S. offers an alternative for Pyongyang, which is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for the stability of the regime.  The talk show emphasized that the U.S. — and the Trump administration —had the power in control of the hostile situation in the Pacific.

On the other hand, another talk show, Deep Throat News, hosted by Ping Xiu-lin of Chung T’ien Television, presented a different perspective on U.S. options in the face of North Korean threats. This talk show strongly questioned America’s role as the protector of its allies in the Pacific by basing its argument on how the U.S. had responded to the new missile-testing over Japan. An invited expert on domestic and international affairs, Lai Yue-qian, said the U.S. apparently had not kept its promise to shoot down North Korean missiles flying across Japan’s territory. He claimed the anti-missile system, Patriot PAC-3, deployed in Japan and the recently deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System in South Korea, might not have the capability to intercept North Korean missiles at altitudes above 500 kilometers, which is beyond the range of interception for both anti-missile systems deployed by America in Japan and South Korea.

The talk show also suggested that had the U.S. attempted to intercept the missile and failed, it would seriously have affected the U.S.’s selling of the anti-missile systems to other nations. Furthermore, Tainan City Councilor Xie Long-jie said that with the Trump administration’s focus on America’s own domestic economy, going head to head with North Korea would not be in the U.S.’s best interests. However, Gao Si-buo, an associate professor of the Department of Law at Shih Hsin University, argued that the only option left for the U.S. is to accept North Korea as a nuclear power in the same way countries as are America, India and Pakistan, and to seek a diplomatic means to keep peace with North Korea.

Taiwan’s stance

At the August Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan is committed to its partners on a coordinated response to the instability in the Korean Peninsula through efforts such as economic sanctions on North Korea. Under Tsai’s administration, siding with the U.S. and Japan on issues regarding North Korea is aligned with her attempts in seeking partnerships with other nations to gain global recognition.

Tsai’s response has to do with Taiwan’s politically ambiguous status where Taiwan is neither a country nor controlled by China and therefore has been marginalized from world events. However, Tsai’s inclination to work with the U.S. and Japan is controversial. Storm Media Group in Taiwan, for instance, published a recent article criticizing such an approach to gain global recognition.

According to the article, this is not Taiwan’s first time being actively involved in a global crises in order to be recognized as a nation. Taiwan, for example, volunteered to send troops to assist the U.S. with the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Such attempts were never formally acknowledged by the U.S. The article’s author, Chen Zong-yi, said endangering Taiwan’s own safety in exchange for global recognition is unwise as demonstrated by Taiwan’s being targeted by terrorist groups as a result of supporting the U.S. with logistics in the Iraq War.

While Taiwan enjoys a high degree of freedom in news reporting, both the media and government examine international issues with their own interests and unique international status in mind. And the way they approach the U.S.-North Korea tension is no exception.


Authors’ note:

Wen-Hung Hsieh is a PhD student of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is currently researching topics regarding the relationship between materiality and issues of identity, with the primary focus on China, Taiwan and Japan.

Shu-Ling Wu is Assistant Professor of Chinese at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She enjoys teaching Chinese language and culture courses and aims to cultivate experts who can contribute to the exchanges and dialogues between the East and the West.  

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